Initial cost benefits of Electro-hydraulics

Initial cost benefits of Electro-hydraulics

Intro

We get a lot of feedback regarding the initial cost of using electro-hydraulic power units from customers in the fluid power industry. The cost to integrate is one of the long-standing reasons electro-hydraulics have been slow to gain a foot hold in this industry. This resistance is coming from distributors, and integrators, as well as, original equipment manufacturers.

There are endless combinations of components used to design hydraulic systems. Some are replicated thousands of times for OEM applications, and others are one-of-a-kind systems for a very specific use. In this article we are focusing on a single actuator schematic to keep the comparison as simple as possible. An apples-to-apples comparison of an electro-hydraulic system vs. a traditional hydraulic system with the same functionality, and sensing capabilities, shows an interesting result.

single action hydraulic schematic

Integrated Electro-hydraulics HPU components

Integrated Electro-hydraulic power packs are being spec’d into designs in order to allow engine off hydraulics, lower noise, lower emission capabilities, and increased efficiency from combustion engines still needed for propulsion. This is done by using power-on-demand functionality, built in pressure/flow control, and lots of internal sensing of the electronics and hydraulics systems to keep them running at peak performance and efficiency. The integrated sensing gives electro-hydraulics a huge leg up on traditional systems that need to add external components to achieve the same functionality.

A digital flow meter is a great example of an add on component. A digital flow meter costs about $800, and will need a $250 controller to monitor the flow data. The controller must be programmed, by a tech or engineer, to do something useful with the data. Electro-hydraulics can measure the same data with no extra components using a bit of math. RPM x pump displacement with proper tuning will give a flow value. Temp, pressure, RPM, current, voltage, and power are also included.

One of the biggest advantages of integrated electro-hydraulics is the packaging. Almost all hydraulic components are combined into a single package including; motor, motor controller, pump, manifold,  proportional/directional control, and closed loop sensing. Oil cooling components are completely omitted since there is almost no energy lost to heat. This compactness allows systems to be installed in places they may not have been able to fit otherwise.

integrated-electro-hydraulic-hpu

Traditional HPU components

Traditional hydraulic power units generally consist of a 3 phase AC electric motor, gear pump, manifold, valves, and a reservoir. This combination will get you pressure and flow at a price that is hard to beat for basic applications. Things get more expensive if additional control or sensing capabilities are needed for the application. Proportional/directional valves add mechanical flow control, but at the expense of heat (lost energy), additional costs, and system complexity. Adding sensing for system feedback optimizes efficiency and precision, but again increases cost and complexity. This is usually where the added capabilities of the system are not enough to warrant the costs involved.

Consider also, these components take up a fair amount of room. For some applications space is not a problem, however, other installations may be completely dictated by the amount of space available.

traditional hpu size

Cost comparisons of both systems

The table below shows the cost equivalent of equally capable systems for both traditional HPUs and integrated electro-hydraulic HPUs. These costs are based on actual quotes from fluid power distributors at “retail markup” that is consistent with purchasing through distribution for machine integration. This example assumes an integrated electro-hydraulic system such as, a brushless permanent magnet motor and motor controller, pump, and integrated manifold. As you can see, just for components, the electro-hydraulic HPU is about $500 less expensive.

component cost comparison electro-hydraulic vs traditional hpu

Engineering design and installation resources

One of the biggest selling points, aside from efficiency, functionality, and packaging, of integrated electro-hydraulics is the ease of installation. Most systems require voltage in, communication, and hydraulic hoses. Simple block diagram programming gets you up and running.

It takes years and years of experience to become a master fluid power engineer that can design and troubleshoot a traditional hydraulic system. There is a huge change over in the fluid power industry happening right now. As most veterans are nearing retirement, there is a skills gap that is widening. There is not much attention given to the fluid power industry from young graduates entering the work force. Electro-hydraulics are helping bridge the skills gap by having the ability to “plug and play” which does not require traditional hydraulic knowledge or decades of experience. It also brings a level of quick control and tuning ability not easily duplicated with traditional hydraulics. Most importantly, quick design and start up times get machines back to work instead of weeks of downtime.

resources cost comparison electro-hydraulic vs traditional hpu

Parts procurement resources

Tons of resources are invested in parts procurement through verified suppliers that may take years of relationship building. Once components for a system are ordered, lead times, shipping times, shipping costs, and managing all these suppliers is a full-time position. Is also takes resources to manage the orders, invoices, and payments for these components. The ability to order an integrated electro-hydraulic HPU from a single source saves time and money that is usually not directly associated with designing a system, but, none the less, effects the bottom line.

Troubleshooting and design iterations

Once a system is designed, and assembled, it must be tested, and any bugs worked out through troubleshooting. Issues almost always arise during initial testing. These could result in hours or weeks of debugging, even ordering replacement parts. It all adds up to increased costs, and downtime of the system. Once again, the installation of integrated electro-hydraulics adds the significant advantage of working correctly, right out of the box.

Conclusion

Hydraulic system functionality requirements vary for every application. Basic work functions performed by a high-end system are expensive. However, when added functionality is necessary, and beneficial, integrated electro-hydraulics are the answer! Reduced installation and operation costs, as well as, less resources required from engineering, procurement, and maintenance all support the decision to choose electro-hydraulics.

 

 

Custom Solutions

We have engineered the Hydrapulse to fulfill as many applications as possible as a non-custom solution. However, we understand that every project is unique and may call for something a little different. E-mail or call us to discuss your project and how we may be able to design a custom solution for you.

OEM Solutions

Hydrapulse, Inc. works with OEM’s to create semi-custom solutions tailored to meet your needs. Whether it is a custom displacement pump, communication interface, or firmware configuration, the Hydrapulse team can offer a semi-custom solution to fit your specs. Contact us to discuss your OEM opportunity.

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Benefits beyond Efficiency for Electro-hydraulics

Benefits beyond Efficiency for Electro-hydraulics

Intro

There are many discussions regarding electrification in the fluid power industry right now, especially electro-hydraulic pump units. With all the buzz around this technology, it is difficult to understand what the advantages are and why go through the trouble of integrating electro-hydraulics into your mobile machine. If the benefits are not clear, most folks tend to dismiss the claims as being marketing hype and continue using antiquated methods despite the known shortcomings. Electro-hydraulic pumps are most known for allowing for a major increase in efficiency. What is less known is, electro-hydraulics also offer a huge gains in simplicity, capability, and tuning. In this article we will touch on some of the key points of why manufacturers are switching to electro-hydraulics other than energy efficiency gains.

Simplicity

Traditional Hydraulic components

Every hydraulic system is different, however, they all have the same basic components that make up the system. Each includes a prime mover (diesel or electric), pump, valves, reservoir, oil cooler, and actuators. Each of these components are potential failure points within the system. The components themselves, or the hoses and fittings between them can fail. While some of these components, such as actuators, cannot be omitted, electro-hydraulics combine many of the components, and make others obsolete.

Electro-hydraulic components

An integrated electro-hydraulic pump is an electric motor, motor controller, and pump all in one unit. The system is powered from an AC or DC power source which opens opportunities for hybrid or zero emission battery power but does not necessarily eliminate a diesel engine. It is inherently more efficient than a traditional system for several reasons. Electro-hydraulics operate in power-on-demand mode and only use energy when work (pressure/flow) is needed. In addition, electro-hydraulics have built in directional and proportional control eliminating the need for manifolds and inefficient directional valves. Improved efficiency means the system generates far less heat. As a result, the oil cooler is omitted. In addition, a simple gear pump can be used instead of a complicated and expensive variable speed pump.

  • Electro-hydraulic systems run more efficiently and cooler than traditional systems
  • Electro-hydraulics integrate or omit components in a traditional hydraulic system
  • Electro-hydraulics can utilize hybrid or zero emission electric drivetrains

Self-diagnostic capabilities

Artisan hydraulic troubleshooting

Traditional hydraulic systems are not easy to troubleshoot. There are many components that have potential to fail over time. A component failure may manifest itself in ways that are not inherently obvious. Each component has an affect on the other components and can create a difficult troubleshooting scenario that may need the expertise of a seasoned hydraulics technician to solve.

Self-diagnostics

Electro-hydraulics have self-diagnostic capabilities that are changing the way hydraulics are designed, maintained, and repaired. Onboard diagnostics can monitor voltage, current, rpm, power output, temp, pressure, flow, vibration, and many other metrics. This data is used for internal monitoring of the system for optimal performance as well as alerting operators of errors, fault codes, and maintenance issues. Datalogging capabilities can detect changes over time that can show pump or bearing wear. This allows for planned maintenance to be done to avoid catastrophic failures that can cause extended downtime.

  • Traditional hydraulics can be difficult to troubleshoot
  • Electro-hydraulic systems are self-diagnostic with multiple sensors collecting data continuously
  • Self-diagnostics detect issues earlier and allow for planned maintenance to avoid catastrophic failures

Plug-and-Play Tuning

Some of the latest electro-hydraulic systems are almost plug-and-play, right out of the box. Plug in your power supply, communication interface, a/b hydraulic hoses, and you are ready to go. Simple configuration tuning can be done digitally from the user interface. Of course, if you are upgrading an entire machine it is a bit more involved than that. However, this is opening a new era of fluid power that resonates with a new generation of engineers, and technicians, in the fluid power industry. As more of the seasoned fluid power veterans are retiring, focus is on creating products that make fluid power integration easier. This is accomplished by using components that can be applied to a wider array of systems, shortening design cycles, and bring-up time.

  • Some electro-hydraulic systems are plug and play right out of the box
  • Simple configuration tuning available via the user interface
  • Electro-hydraulics allow the creation of products that make fluid power integration easier

Downsides

Full system Integration

Now that we have covered some of the positive aspects of electro-hydraulic power units, let’s discuss some of the hurdles. If it was simple to switch to electro-hydraulics the entire industry would have already done it. Unfortunately, upgrading an entire machine to electro-hydraulics means looking at the complete hydraulic system and potentially drivetrain system to take full advantage of the benefits of electro-hydraulics. Most hydraulic equipment has been designed and incrementally tuned over decades. Changes to the system can be hard to get approval. However, if a piece of equipment is undergoing a major redesign (for emissions regulations for example) or is a newly designed piece of equipment, then it may be a great opportunity to move to electro-hydraulics. Additionally, electro-hydraulics can be integrated at different levels. For instance, an electro-hydraulic pump unit can be added to an existing hydraulic system, as is, without changing anything on the hydraulic side. This would add power-on-demand functionality and efficiency benefits without forcing a complete hydraulic system redesign.

Cost of entry

Cost of entry is another obstacle often discussed. The individual cost of the electro-hydraulic pump unit will be more than traditional pumps. A high tech electro-hydraulic pump may be overkill for some applications, such as a tilt trailer. However, electro-hydraulics are becoming cheaper as they gain momentum in fluid power. In addition, for more demanding applications, the money and time saved in the overall system by eliminating valves, manifolds, multiple sensors, oil coolers, hoses, fittings, and of course fuel consumed will be much cheaper than traditional hydraulics.

Preconceptions

Preconceptions of new technology are hard to overcome in this industry. Electronics have long had a negative reputation for being difficult to integrate as well as unreliable. That may have been true 25 years ago, but today electronics are everywhere, including applications considered harsh and demanding. They have become much simpler to integrate via touch screen interfaces and preprogrammed configurations. Modern electrical systems are spec’d appropriately and undergo extensive environmental certification testing before logging hours in the field. If they are integrated properly, there should be no reliability issues with electronics.

Conclusion

While electro-hydraulics are catching on because of their efficiency gains and ability to lower emissions, there are also performance and functionality benefits that add tremendous value. As more OEM’s integrate electro-hydraulics, we expect to see the technology used in ways that have not been thought of yet. While Diesel might be around for another 10 or 20 years, electro-hydraulics are paving the way to a cleaner future with advanced technologies that are available now.

 

 

Custom Solutions

We have engineered the Hydrapulse to fulfill as many applications as possible as a non-custom solution. However, we understand that every project is unique and may call for something a little different. E-mail or call us to discuss your project and how we may be able to design a custom solution for you.

OEM Solutions

Hydrapulse, Inc. works with OEM’s to create semi-custom solutions tailored to meet your needs. Whether it is a custom displacement pump, communication interface, or firmware configuration, the Hydrapulse team can offer a semi-custom solution to fit your specs. Contact us to discuss your OEM opportunity.

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Common Problems with Traditional Hydraulic Systems

Common Problems with Traditional Hydraulic Systems

Intro

Modern hydraulic systems are simply amazing for their power density, robust operation, and all-around influence in heavy duty equipment and vehicles. But for all the advantages of modern hydraulic systems, there are some serious problems that persist. We will go over common problems and how they may be addressed.

Problem #1 – Inefficiency

The largest and arguably most costly problem is the terrible inefficiencies of fluid power systems. A typical hydraulic system incurs energy losses at multiple points throughout the work cycle. From the prime mover (traditionally an IC diesel engine), pump, valves, hoses, and actuators, the losses are comprised of several different types.

We will start with the prime mover. In mobile applications, the prime mover is typically a diesel engine due to its reliability and torque output. The best way to optimize efficiency of an internal combustion engine is to decouple it from the pump, and allow it to operate within its optimum efficiency, torque, and rpm range. This scenario lends itself to hybrid or zero emission all-electric architectures for vehicles. By changing the engine load from one that must follow the torque duty cycle (coupled) to one that can operate independent of the torque requirement (decoupled), we can easily increase the prime mover efficiency by approximately 25% . When the prime mover is an electric motor, there is a similar scenario regarding efficiency. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, the maximum efficiency of an electric motor is around 75% of full rated load . Again, unfortunately most fluid power systems do not allow the motor to operate at that condition very often. If the electric motor is only loaded to 20% of its rating, then the efficiency losses can be as high as 80%. For a great in depth read about electric motor efficiency, check out “Premium Efficiency Motor Selection and Application Guide” put out by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Advanced Manufacturing Office .

Typical Motor Load Efficiency Graphic
Figure 1 – Typical Motor Load Efficiency Curve

Current methods to size an electric motor for fluid power systems is all about compromise. They are sized to handle worst case load situations but in reality, it will be operating throughout its percentage of full load range. One way to increase efficiency of the motor losses is to operate in a power-on-demand configuration. The motor would only be supplying the speed and torque required by the work being done. While synchronous induction motors are by far the most widely used motor type in the world, they do not lend themselves to operating in a power-on-demand function. This is due to needing a minimum speed to attain a magnetizing current and thereby be able to produce torque. If you must operate at lower speeds, an induction motor will not suffice. Moving to a permanent magnet motor is a great step in achieving power-on-demand functionality, but it comes at the price of requiring a motor controller (sometimes called a “drive” or an “inverter”). This creates a cost prohibitive barrier for most applications. There are ways to drive down the cost of motor controllers that will be discussed in a future article.

Following the prime mover down the chain is the hydraulic pump. Like the prime mover, the pump’s performance is largely dependent on the duty cycle of the system. When running full speed and fully loaded, many piston pumps can approach 90% efficiency, unfortunately most systems rarely (if ever) operate in this condition. Usually, they see a duty cycle that fluctuates from zero work being done to moderate or higher levels of work. This means that the overall pump efficiency may be closer to 60% or 70%. One easy way to improve the energy lost at the pump (although you would not improve the actual pump’s mechanical or volumetric efficiency) is to again, operate it in a power-on-demand situation. This means that the pump is only producing flow or pressure when work is being done and only the flow and pressure that is required at that instantaneous point in time. This is similar to decoupling the engine as described above and can remove all non-optimum duty cycle losses.

Next in the chain are the control valves. These take the form of directional control valves, pressure control valves, flow control valves, etc. A typical hydraulic circuit has a complex manifold of valves, and they all rely on Bernoulli’s principals of pressure and velocity in a fluid. Specifically, it states that an increase in speed of a fluid results in a decrease in pressure (pressure drop). This pressure drop is a decrease in the potential energy of the fluid and results in heat being generated, i.e. energy lost. In almost all hydraulic valves, we must create an increase in velocity in order to control the direction, flow, or pressure, thus the energy losses in these components are inevitable. In a future article, we will discuss a simple way of dealing with the energy losses in valves, by simply removing them from the system!

Energy Chain in Hydraulic System
Figure 2 – Energy Chain in Hydraulic System

• The best way to optimize efficiency of an internal combustion engine is to decouple it from the pump, and allow it to operate within its optimum efficiency, torque, and rpm range.
• Increase the efficiency of an electric motor and hydraulic pump by operating in a power-on-demand configuration.
• Pressure drop is a decrease in the potential energy of the fluid and results in heat being generated, i.e. energy lost.

Problem #2 – Complexity

Over the years, fluid power systems have consistently become more and more complex. With the explosion of integrated electronic valves, sensors, and controllers in the last decade or two, the complexity of a system has been compounded. A hydraulic system is very dynamic by nature, and when one component has a problem, it typically can cause a chain reaction of effects throughout the system. This creates problems not only for troubleshooting (we discuss that below) but also tuning, sensor feedback filtering, maintenance, and cost among other things. A good example of this problem is when a pump load sense orifice is constricted by a partial blockage. This partial blockage can present itself as various symptoms throughout the system depending on the dynamic load or flow rate being called for. Due to Bernoulli’s pesky principle (states that an increase in fluid speed results in a decrease in pressure or vice versa), a constantly changing flow rate will constantly change the pressure drop across a LS orifice. Normally this is compensated for within the system design, but when an unforeseen obstruction or blockage occurs (especially one that is transient in nature) the dynamic system effects can be troublesome.

Typical Hydraulic System Schematic
Figure 3 – Typical Hydraulic System Schematic

• fluid power systems have consistently become more and more complex.
• A hydraulic system is very dynamic by nature, and when one component has a problem, it typically can cause a chain reaction of effects throughout the system

Problem #3 – Difficult to Troubleshoot

Troubleshooting….. there are more troubleshooting articles, opinions, tips, tricks, how-to’s, etc. out there than any other item related to fluid power. Every expert or technician has an opinion on how best to go about troubleshooting a given system. The main problem with troubleshooting is every hydraulic system is different: different pumps, different valves, different controls, different pressures, different duty cycles, different flow rates, different.. well… everything! No two systems are alike, even if they are designed the same with exact components. This fact, along with the very dynamic nature of fluid power systems, creates a nightmare for the troubleshooter. Troubleshooting also involves the blame game, i.e. which component supplier is most likely responsible for whatever the problem is at hand. The pump manufacturer will blame the valves, the valve people will blame the controls guy, etc. This will cloud the waters and divert from the true culprit of the system issue leading to incorrect diagnosis and/or solution implementations. Instead of going into all the reasons that a system could fail or not perform correctly, let’s talk about components and their likelihood to fail or cause problems starting from the least likely to the most likely.

1. Reservoir: its steel so not much to say.
2. Hoses and tubes: these either work or not. They either hold pressure or they leak.
3. Fittings: again, see above.
4. Coolers and heat exchangers: slightly more complex but typically either the fan is running or not. Pretty easy to troubleshoot.
5. Hydraulic Cylinders (actuators): not much can go wrong here either. According to Fluid Power World, they can fail by damaged or deteriorated seals or physical damage . Blowby can create some more difficult issues to troubleshoot, but a seasoned technician should be able to identify that.
6. Hydraulic motors: these can be a bit more difficult. They can be robust and simple like the fixed displacement variety, or difficult to troubleshoot like adjustable axial piston motors. The most common issues involve the swashplate control valves or control electronics.
7. Hydraulic pumps: now we are getting to many-a-problem in a hydraulic system.

Problem #4 – Prone to contamination

The typical clearance between some internal components in a modern piston pump or servo valve is less than 2 microns. To put that in perspective, a human hair is around 50 microns, a red blood cell is about 8 microns, and 40 microns is about the smallest particle visible to the naked eye! That means that a particle around the size of a red blood cell has the potential to bring an entire hydraulic power unit to a standstill. A typical hydraulic system filter is sized to remove contaminants down to about 10 microns with many high-end systems requiring filtration down to 5 or even 2 microns.

Contaminant Size Comparison
Figure 4 – Size Comparison

Custom Solutions

We have engineered the Hydrapulse to fulfill as many applications as possible as a non-custom solution. However, we understand that every project is unique and may call for something a little different. E-mail or call us to discuss your project and how we may be able to design a custom solution for you.

OEM Solutions

Hydrapulse, Inc. works with OEM’s to create semi-custom solutions tailored to meet your needs. Whether it is a custom displacement pump, communication interface, or firmware configuration, the Hydrapulse team can offer a semi-custom solution to fit your specs. Contact us to discuss your OEM opportunity.

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Top Reasons Why Electro-Hydraulics Should Be in Your Next Mobile Machine Design

Top Reasons Why Electro-Hydraulics Should Be in Your Next Mobile Machine Design

Intro

The fluid power industry is in the middle of a mass paradigm shift. There is a major shift towards electrical drive systems. There are many factors contributing to this change. One of the biggest factors is lowering emissions and fuel consumption of mobile heavy equipment to meet government mandated emissions regulations. The problem with that is in traditional hydraulic systems, the diesel engine is directly coupled to the hydraulic pump sized to run at worst case scenario 100% pressure and flow of all hydraulic functions. However, in the real world the machine may only see average use of 20% power available. As a result, this is forcing companies to look at decoupling the hydraulics from the prime mover by looking at electro-hydraulic solutions.

Energy Efficiency through Power on Demand

Electro-hydraulic solutions have potential to be radically more efficient than traditional hydraulics systems. It has been documented by many companies that electro-hydraulics are up to 80% more efficient. There are a few key features that make this possible. One of the simplest features is power on demand functionality. In simple terms, the electro-hydraulic unit only spins when pressure and flow are needed for work functions. When work functions are not being done, the electro-hydraulic unit sits at idle using no energy. This is a huge efficiency gain, as opposed to a traditional hydraulic pump which is always spinning with excess pressure and flow returning to tank. This also increases component lifespan with less wear on bearings and seals when no work is being done.

  • 80% more efficient than traditional hydraulic solutions
  • The electro-hydraulic unit only spins when pressure and flow are needed
  • Greater component longevity

Even More Efficiency with Directional and Proportional control

Another major advantage to electro-hydraulic pumps is the fact that you can control directionality and proportionality of the hydraulics with the direction and speed of the electric motor. This concept has been well established with stepper motors and controllers in industrial hydraulics such as injection molding machines and has huge potential in mobile equipment because it means the removal of proportional and directional valves to the hydraulic circuit. These valves are inefficient, expensive, create heat, and are a nightmare for maintenance and troubleshooting.

  • Built in proportional and directional control
  • No need for expensive valve banks and manifolds
  • Increased efficiency, reduced system cost, less heat, and simpler troubleshooting

Ease of Installation

Efficiency and more control are great but cramming all that stuff into a mobile chassis can be a challenge. First, an electro-hydraulic unit does not need to be coupled to the prime mover. This opens up a lot more placement options on a piece of equipment, especially if it is an Integrated electro-hydraulic system. These have a huge advantage because the electric motor, motor controller, and hydraulic pump are combined into one compact unit. In addition, there are no oil coolers to package because there is no heat being created by an inefficient valve bank.

  • Electro-hydraulic systems are not coupled to the prime mover
  • Much more placement options on mobile equipment
  • Less components to mount in system

Troubleshooting

Troubleshooting a traditional hydraulic system with multiple valve banks can be a nightmare. Each circuit of the schematic has an impact on another circuit. It usually takes a well-versed hydraulics technician to troubleshoot a system and get it back up and running. With electro-hydraulics, especially a fully integrated dispersed network, troubleshooting becomes very simple. Each work function is paired to a single electro-hydraulic unit. With each circuit isolated, it becomes much more obvious to troubleshoot and repair the piece of equipment.

  • Dispersed electro-hydraulic system pairs one pump to one work function
  • Simple troubleshooting and repair

Comparable cost to install

10 years ago, electro-hydraulic solutions were a no starter for most applications because the initial cost was just too high compared to traditional hydraulics. As more companies develop and install electro-hydraulic solutions the initial cost of the components is coming down. At this point integrated electro-hydraulics solutions are comparable price wise to traditional hydraulic solutions, especially when considering the number of components that are not needed in the system e.g. expensive pump styles, valves, manifolds, and oil coolers.

  • Initial cost of components is coming down
  • Comparable overall price to traditional hydraulic systems

Custom Solutions

We have engineered the Hydrapulse to fulfill as many applications as possible as a non-custom solution. However, we understand that every project is unique and may call for something a little different. E-mail or call us to discuss your project and how we may be able to design a custom solution for you.

OEM Solutions

Hydrapulse, Inc. works with OEM’s to create semi-custom solutions tailored to meet your needs. Whether it is a custom displacement pump, communication interface, or firmware configuration, the Hydrapulse team can offer a semi-custom solution to fit your specs. Contact us to discuss your OEM opportunity.

Get our newsletter and stay up to date on information about Hydrapulse